Apple, Bjork, iTunes — changing music one App at a time, 22 mars 2011

Despite Bon Jovi’s moaning, Apple [AAPL] and its iTunes Store saved the music business. When it launched music had no popular online music store while audiences had already moved online. Now digital music is changing again. Music delivery is moving away from albums and toward Apps. This is already happening with Icelandic chanteuse, Bjork, preparing to unleash her new album/App this summer.

iTunes Extras. Originally presented as a way to boost album sales, the format is cumbersome and hasn’t really set the world on fire. Just under two years old it already seems dated. In the fast-moving iOS universe, the App is where it’s at.

Album sales are the bread-&-butter of music retail. A hit single helps boost an artist’s identity, but album sales are what brings the cash cows in. It is only in the last year or so that online music purchasers have begun picking up digital albums.

Adele versus Lady Gaga

The UK Official Chart Company notes that artist Adele this week set a new record for digital album sales in the UK, beating Ping-denying Lady Gaga’s previous record. It tool Adele two months to beat a record the latter’s release set in two years.

Official Charts Company managing director Martin Talbot said, "Adele’s 21 has achieved in just two months what took Lady Gaga’s The Fame over two years. This really is a coming of age for digital album sales."

The album format is mutating. It has mutated before. Take a look at vinyl, take a look at CD, take a look at Super-8. Then take a look at digital — the potential hasn’t yet been realized, and the beauty of the App approach to online publishing for any creative industry is its exciting new creative possibilities — and the inherent way in which it potentially unifies previously disparate elements of the liberal arts.


Think about it : There’s no boundary now between a magazine App, a news App or a music App — they all need a little of each other in order to deliver truly engaging experiences.

  • All three at least need music, art, words and presentation.
    All three benefit from seamless inclusion of material that’s rare, original and unavailable elsewhere.
  • All three (in the App world, at least) also benefit from the kind of location-based information and user retention features previous formats could only have dreamed of.
  • After all, when else was it possible to sell a fan a live album or exclusive gig tickets while they listened to an album for the first time ?
  • When else in time could you click a button to find every interview, promo and video clips and photography while listening to the album for the first time and from within the album itself ?
  • If artists embrace the potential then we may in future see this period as some form of digital renaissance. It isn’t just about artists, take a look at Spin magazine’s new Spin Play App for a taste of what’s to come : you get to listen to the music you’re reading about. Each issue gives you access to 60 or more songs and 30 streamed videos.

Reach out and iTouch

The App creates a closed communication system, a digi-spiritual manifestation of that strong, passionate mental and physical relationship between artist and act made possible in this digital age.

Meanwhile more conventional a la carte music sales are slowly being replaced by streaming music services. iTunes is alleged to be heading toward offering a music locker service — if you’re an iPad user you can already access these using powerful online file storage service, Carbonite Access for iPad.

ABI Research claims there will be 5.9 million subscribers to such services by the end of 2011, rising to 161 million in 2016 :

"The biggest winners from these developments are likely to be consumers, and the vendors and the service providers enabling these new models, such as Rhapsody, Melon and Spotify," said ABI, adding, "It will be more difficult to make a living by selling recorded music, but the barriers to wide product distribution are falling fast."

That’s the inherent opportunity. Artist release schedules are hampered by the challenges arranging international releases. For example, Warners has already used the App as a medium for distribution of ’The Dark Night’, a move of particular use to countries which don’t yet have an iTunes Movie store.

There’s plenty of development in the music as Apps sector. Take a look at Walmart’s free Soundcheck Concert App. This offers artist music and interviews, backstage footage and more.

Now the world’s biggest music label, Universal Music has already begun releasing music from some of its biggest legacy artists as iPad Apps. Albums from Nirvana, Rush and the Rolling Stones all hit the App Store this morning.

Available in the US, these interactive, socially-connected Apps deliver music videos, live footage, exclusive interviews and lots of other content that should appeal to fans of these bands. These are more like ’making of’ DVDs and you must still purchase the music separately.

Biophilia App

However, Bjork seems set to show the way. She’ll release her new album, Biophilia, in June. Bjork’s project will be to : "Explore ideas like how sound works, the infinite expanse of the universe, from planetary systems to atomic structures".

As part of this release Bjork has "developed an App album in collaboration with Apple", which will also offer games and musical elements you just won’t get elsewhere. The App is becoming a significant release in and of itself. A new creative format.

The irony is that in future the emerging digital world will loop back into the physical. Apps will also act as direct stores for the purchase of physical product, such as private invite-only intimate live performances, exclusive merchandise, rare artwork. The App becomes a way to extend the experience back into the physical world.

What do you think ? Will the album App be a triumph of hype, or will it amount to new creative forms ? Let me know in comments below. I’d also very much like to invite you to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when I post new reports here first on Computerworld.

by Jonny Evans

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